Classic Cameras
Vintage 4x5 Field Cameras
Super Graphic And The Busch Pressman

So you want to try large format photography but don't want to spend a lot of money? Vintage 4x5 press cameras sit forlornly on dealers' shelves everywhere, and if not in collectable shape (e.g., mint, with correct lens plus accessories) they can usually be had at bargain prices. One of the cameras I recommend, the Graflex Super Graphic, was manufactured in 1964. On the camera I purchased, the bellows needed a little attention and I removed the rangefinder, distance meter, and electric wiring (the optical finder was missing). I then replaced the leather to cover up the holes left exposed on the top of the camera body. The Busch Pressman is probably mid-1950s, as it is similar to the Model D, but came from the factory without a rangefinder. It had been modified by a previous owner to provide wing nut front standard tilt locks and the optical finder was also missing. I purchased both from local camera stores for $100 each in well used, but good operating condition. Both were very capable of taking pictures (via ground-glass focusing) as purchased off-the-shelf.


Here are some basic observations about these cameras: Both are metal alloy folding-bed press cameras whose rangefinder and optical viewfinder can easily be removed to become lightweight field cameras. Both cameras have revolving backs, a big advantage over Crown and Speed Graphics, but no rear movements (à la the more expensive Linhof, Meridian, and MPP). The Super Graphic has on-axis front tilt, swing, rise, and shift, while the Busch Pressman has less convenient base tilt, rise, and shift, but no front swing. Bellows extend on both cameras to approximately 12" allowing use of a 180-210mm lens with decent capacity for near distance focusing (but no macro).

The Busch Pressman has a smaller opening in the front standard which limits the choice of lenses having larger rear elements (a 90mm f/8 can be used, but not the f/5.6). Lensboards for the Busch Pressman are scarce, but reproductions are currently available on eBay. Super Graphic lensboards are readily available on eBay or at camera shows. The Super Graphic has a Graflok back, which allows use of "international" back rollfilm holders, such as the commonly available and inexpensive Graphic RH-8. The Busch Pressman has a spring back, requiring a slide-in type rollfilm holder, such as a Calumet (easier to use than having to first remove the Graflok spring back).

Another less common camera of similar specification is the Burke & James Press. It is a metal folding-bed camera of approximately 4.5 lbs; uses 4" lensboards; has a revolving spring back, front standard on-axis tilt, rise, and shift, but no swing.